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Tucked into the brick façade of downtown Holland, Michigan’s W. 8th Street, where Late Victorian architecture meets contemporary, mixed-use development inspired by the style, Mezkla Taqueria & Fruteria is bringing a fresh, bold flavor to the vernacular palate. While modest in footprint, the brick-and-mortar storefront is just one chapter of a much larger story for Founder and Owner Patricia Vasquez, whose simple, but powerful vision to curate a sensory experience goes beyond taste and smell to a visual feast of shared culture and memory. It is as much about the authentic recipes, fresh ingredients, and handcrafted salsas as it is about the stories and heritage that come with it, where each patron who steps through the front door is considered a guest in her own home.

“I love food. Culturally, for us, it just brings people together. It brings us together and I wanted to make sure that same experience, we as a family and culturally experience, was transmitted to our customers: friendly; hospitality. This is what we want you to have, that same love and affection that I feel like our parents give. At Mezkla, we want to be real, we want to be authentic, and it is great to share that culture through food,” Vasquez said. “It is not just about going there to eat. I don’t want that to just be it. I want it to be an experience, from the time you walk in and are served—the water, the plate, the food, the salsas, the flavors—where we balance great flavor with great presentation.”

For Vasquez, Mezkla was born from a passion for cooking, sharing food, and an insatiable thirst for travel. Vasquez, who has called Holland home for 27 years, is originally from Brownsville, Texas, which is a coastal town adjacent Matamoros, Mexico, and spent her early summers in Northport, Michigan in the Leelanau Peninsula.

“My parents were migrant workers. We would come to Northport every summer and they would work the cherry fields while I was at summer migrant school. Michigan was just one of those places that we always looked forward to being at,” Vasquez said.


The food truck

Initially pursuing fashion merchandising at Western Michigan University, and exploring the field of education as a student teacher for a period of time, Vasquez ultimately ended up in the corporate sector using her undergraduate degree in merchandising. But it was her love of travel—combined with her affinity for the culinary arts—that inspired her to consider an alternative path.

“I always had a passion for cooking. My family has a background in entrepreneurship and cooking has always been something that culturally I feel like brings the whole family together, so of course, me being the youngest of three, I would cook for my family, but I cook in big quantities, so there really was no portion control there. I really enjoyed giving to others like neighbors and friends, and serving others through food,” Vasquez said.

“I was working in corporate America and I was traveling, but wanted to keep my travel expenses separate, so I knew I needed a side hustle to pay for the expenses. One day, I was talking to my sisters, and they’re like, ‘why don’t you start selling tacos or fruit and put it on Facebook Market?’ It was kind of a joke, but I’m a risk taker and because I’m so goal-driven and driven by the fact that I wanted to travel more, I’m like I’m going to do it,” Vasquez added.

Within a couple of days of her first posting—fruit platters featuring fresh mango, pineapple, and other tropical fruit with Tajín and chamoy seasoning, a culturally significant dish—Vasquez said she had her first customer and event: a quinceañera for the client’s granddaughter. It was not long after that Vasquez and her long-time partner, Carlos Miranda, who also has a passion for cooking, were asked to cater at their friend’s annual neighborhood party.

Pictured: Patricia Vasquez, founder and owner | Photography: De La Cruz Photography

“That was the opening of the other side of the whole venture. First, it was with the fruit, and then it ventured off with the tacos and this neighborhood party had an awesome turnout. It was great and the people who went to that neighborhood party were totally different than my initial customers, if you will. The customers I had when I was doing the fruit were more Hispanic, because it is something culturally that we are more aware of, but then our tacos were a hit with the Caucasian crowd, which was awesome. They were so appreciative of them and how we were able to put it together,” Vasquez said.

“That is how it started. That is why it is called Mezkla, meaning ‘a mix,’ where we have the fruit, fruteria, and we have the tacos, taqueria, combined together, and although it is just food, I see it as more of cultures coming together,” Vasquez added.

Driven by a growing demand for both the fruit and the taco sides of the business—and a need for commercial space from which to serve at events—Vasquez said that when a former carnival food truck came up for sale not too far from her own home, she took the time to seriously consider taking the leap of faith. Some time later, a few months before COVID lockdown, Vasquez left her corporate job, purchased the food trailer, and began applying for a food license.

“I remember I went to Cuba and suddenly COVID hit and I remember my mom calling me, she’s like, ‘you better come home, because they are going to close the airports, you are going to be stuck there on the island.’ And sure enough, everybody was trying to evacuate from the island, there was no one left in the airport that day. It was literally the day before lockdown,” Vasquez said. “So here I am, no job, can’t really do anything because it’s COVID and we are all stuck at home, with this trailer. And I felt like I was getting denied from so many different aspects of the business for the license.”

Undeterred, Vasquez along with her father, Jesus Vasquez; brother, Alonzo Ochoa; and partner, Carlos Miranda; remodeled the former carnival trailer into a modern-inspired food truck featuring a simple palette of white, light wood, and greenery—and the Mezkla Taqueria & Fruteria Food Truck was born. She also spent time doing part-time work for a local contractor as she spent the next year in preparation and navigating the licensing process with Ottawa County, Kent County, and Allegan County—the latter of which approved the food truck for operation. On May 15, 2021, Mezkla held its first pop-up event in Washington Square in downtown Holland at Brew Merchant and in which friends, family, and even her very first customer attended.


The storefront

Mezkla quickly built on its early success, parking at the Holland Farmers Market and the Farmer’s Market at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts that summer, as well as catering graduation and birthday parties and several corporate events. In late 2021, Tulip Time board members reached out to Vasquez to invite her to participate in the 2022 Tulip Time Festival, which she noted was an awesome opportunity in getting the name out in the community. It also proved a pivotal seasonal opening for Vasquez and the future of Mezkla, as a storefront on W. 8th Street came up on the market for lease.

“My dad comes to me during Tulip Time week, while we were set up at that one park, and saw that there was a lease sign on one of the buildings that used to be a restaurant. Then my mom comes to me and says the same thing—they love to drive down 8th Street. They kept insisting, so finally I called the number, spoke to the manager, and set up a time to walk through,” Vasquez said.

Pictured: Patricia Vasquez, founder and owner | Photography: De La Cruz Photography

“I fell in love with the place. It was very modern, it felt like you were in a big city, and everything was set up with the kitchen and it had the big window in the front, which I love windows. I’m a very visual person so I could imagine people walking by and looking in and the space was literally new and so quaint. It was the perfect opportunity. It was a quick turnkey, meaning it basically was already equipped. It was just ready for you to go in and start working if you wanted to; there was stuff in there that didn’t work for the food that we needed to make, but it was ready,” Vasquez added.

Owned by Geenen Dekock Properties LLC of Holland, Michigan, a commercial real estate development, management, and leasing firm with more than seven million square feet of developed property in its portfolio across Michigan and Northern Indiana, the storefront is located within one of its mixed-use spaces in the block west of S. River Ave. Geenen Dekock Properties is a sister company with GDK Construction, and has played a prominent role in downtown Holland’s development and Waterfront Holland Vision proposal. Vasquez noted after a roughly five-month interview process with GDK, competing with other candidates, she got a call that she had secured a five-year lease in the space.

“He says to me, ‘we’ve interviewed several other candidates that had established businesses already and have a lot of experience in business, but we believe in you and really see that you are passionate about doing this and we have no doubt that you will be successful, so we want to give you this opportunity.’ It was really humbling for me to hear that from them,” Vasquez said.

“We didn’t do a whole lot of remodeling inside, just a lot of updating. I already knew exactly how I wanted it. I knew exactly what I wanted my customers to feel when they walk in, so the décor, the details, everything was really well thought-out,” Vasquez added.

Conceptually, Mezkla is an intuitive evolution of its food truck, leveraging both the design aesthetic and simple, curated menu as a starting point for the brick-and-mortar experience. Its interior is minimal, fresh, and simple, in homage to the ingredients and dishes that it serves, and a fostered connection between kitchen staff and patrons with its large, open kitchen. There is also a transparency to its street front, where large windows invite passersby into a space that is intentionally meant to make customers feel welcome. Vasquez noted that when it came to the design, every detail was thoughtfully considered from the plates and the napkins to the bowls the guacamole is served in and the shape of the water glasses. The plateware and space in which the food is presented was as integral as the flavors and spices in the dishes themselves.

“It felt like I was designing my home for others to come. That is how I see it, that this is my house and you are my guest, so I want you to have this experience. I’m very visual. I’ve always been a foodie, I love taking pictures of food, so I wanted to make sure that when customers were going to come in, first of all, they are going to feel the ambiance. It’s important. How are you going to feel when you come in here? I want them to feel like it’s clean, it’s fresh, it feels so good in here, it’s peaceful. I want the food to look fresh, the food to look good,” Vasquez said.

“[Design] means everything. I know when I go to certain restaurants, what draws my attention to going to a certain place is the ambiance, the experience. Why do I want to go back to that place? I know how I want to feel when I go into a certain place, so I wanted to transmit that to others, pass it on to others who are my customers. I think that is important as a business owner to also place yourself in the shoes of a customer; how do I want to feel when I go into a certain place?” Vasquez added.


The food

That experience also drove the scale of the menu as well, which Vasquez noted when there are too many options listed at a restaurant, it can become overwhelming for patrons. Instead, Mezkla’s menu takes another leaf from its food truck’s book, staying true to its start as a modern mobile kitchen serving authentic tacos and Mexican street food.

“I wanted it to be strictly tacos as the main thing and, if at all possible, a salad based on the market being downtown. So, a salad and definitely guacamole, and street food like elote and smaller plates, smaller dishes. I didn’t really want to experiment with making enchiladas or bigger dinner plates, because it is a restaurant, but it was going to be like a food truck. It’s going to be the same menu, so I started it off as a taco shop basically,” Vasquez said.

“Now that there is more time to experiment with other things, we have added to the menu and we will continue to add more traditional items, because our customers have been asking for things and we want to listen to them. We added the burrito and then the rice bowl, which is like a burrito bowl. They are the most requested items on the menu, aside from the tacos,” Vasquez added.

Photography: De La Cruz Photography

Mezkla offers popular items like its burrito, rice bowl, taco asada, taco pastor, elote, and handcrafted guacamole made with fresh avocados, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, and lime. There are also buñuelos, paletas, and mangonada; signature tacos like taco nopales and taco batatas—grilled cactus and sweet potato tacos, respectively; and salsas like the salsa roja, salsa fresca, sala verde, and salsa habanera.

“I wanted the real authentic experience. The cactus is actually imported from Mexico. They come with thorns and we literally take all the thorns out, so it is a process. These are fresh nopales, or cactus leaves, and we wanted to provide a dish for vegetarians and vegans, and I’m like, that’s perfect. It’s very authentic, very Mexican,” Vasquez said. “It is boiled, because it is very hard so you have to soften it up, and then it is cooked.”

For the salsas, Vasquez noted she wanted to offer several different kinds that reflected a spectrum of flavor palates, and just like with the tacos and other small plates Mezkla offers, each salsa is handcrafted from scratch using fresh ingredients.

“The salsa habanera is the same thing, fresh habaneros. I was a little nervous to bring that salsa on, because it can be a little intimidating. Interestingly, sometimes the habanero is not as spicy as you think it is. Sometimes it is really spicy, but other times it is not very spicy, it is tolerable, so I love the flavor it gives, because it is like a sweet and spicy kind of deal. It pairs well with the pork tacos, or pastor, because the taco pastor also has that sweetened flavor to it,” Vasquez said.

“We have added another habanero one, which if you see it you are going to think it is charcoal. It is literally all black, because the habaneros are all charred with garlic and it’s very smoky, but it is so good. We are not buying store-bought habanero salsa and putting other ingredients in there, it’s all awesome, beautiful habaneros that are used more in the Yucatán Peninsula, that is the region in Mexico where you will see more of that salsa used,” Vasquez added.

Since its official debut on May 3, 2023, a date coinciding with 2023 Tulip Time Festival and Cinco de Mayo—or rather since its soft opening when word-of-mouth led to an unexpected high demand—Mezkla has quickly become a community favorite. As the food truck operation continues, and its catering arm grows—with events in Charlevoix and recently being added to Windmill Island’s caterer vendor list—Vasquez already has her eye on the future for both the storefront and truck, such as how to improve the brick-and-mortar experience, an outdoor patio expansion, a liquor license, and new locations.

“I don’t ever want to stop growing or feel stagnant and be comfortable. In the future I would love to have many other Mezklas—Saugatuck, Traverse City, Charlevoix, Chicago—but right now, I feel that there is so much potential yet. We just gave our customers a glimpse of what Mezkla is, but there is so much more. I’m always eyeing things, like how can we improve this, how can we improve that, with the layout, small details that really bring out a lot of attention,” Vasquez said.

“It’s been a wild ride. It’s been surreal. I think a lot of people have the misconception that opening a business is easy, it’s fun, it’s flexible, and it’s being your own boss, but everything turns around for me when customers come in and they’re like, ‘we love this place.’ It started off as I wanted to serve others, I wanted to bring that happiness through food, and now I get to see that,” Vasquez added.


First published in Great Lakes By Design: Architectonics, Volume 7, Issue 6


Text: R.J. Weick

Photography: De La Cruz Photography